World Championship qualifying: David Grace hoping to secure a return to the Crucible

David Grace
David Grace

Richard Mann caught up with David Grace as he prepares for his opening Betfred World Championship qualifier against Rory McLeod on Thursday.

Once you have a taste for something, in this case the big time, it can be like a drug that leaves you wanting more. For David Grace the snooker player, that is exactly how he feels with a return to the Crucible Theatre the reward for the 16 players who make it through the World Championship qualifiers taking place in Sheffield over the next two weeks.

Grace finally got his chance to play at the Crucible Theatre in 2017, just rewards for the previous season where he shot to prominence thanks to a fairytale run at the UK Championship, eventually bowing out at the semi-finals stage following a brilliant week in York.

It was that taste of the big time, and his subsequent appearance at the Crucible, that has left the 33-year-old Grace wanting more and he returns to Sheffield with his confidence buoyed and his appetite stronger than ever having first fallen off the main Tour before reclaiming his card via the recently formed Challenge Tour - a ten-event amateur competition played in venues all across the world.

Following a successful few months in which Grace has recaptured something like his best form, the Leeds-based player has joined Brandon Sargeant in earning his place back on the Main Tour and the benefit of those last few months was evidenced in his very next tournament, where he produced some fine snooker to progress to the last 16 of the Gibraltar Open.

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As Grace explains, it might have been even better, too, had he been able to convert a couple of good opportunities when leading Ryan Day 3-0 and 3-1 before the Welshman produced a classy late comeback to book his place in the last eight. Day would eventually reach the final.

Grace told Sporting Life: "I played well all week and scored well. Nothing ridiculous but lots of 50's and 60's and it should have been better. I led Ryan [Day] 3-0 and had a couple of half chances to finish the match and then three really good chances in the next frame.

"I didn't take them and he didn't miss a ball after that. He just did what these top players are capable of doing when you give them a sniff.

"I feel like my game is in good shape, though, and I definitely think the Challenge Tour was a big positive for me. I was playing competitive, hard snooker in regular events and for a little bit of money.

"In the past, if you had fallen off the main Tour, all you would have been able to do was get on the practice table until Q School came back around. They are making some slight changes next year but I think the concept is a big positive for the sport."

For now, Grace turns his attention back to Sheffield, just up the road for his home in Leeds and home to a snooker venue that makes Grace visibly change in expression when its name is mentioned.

"Playing at the Crucible Threatre, is it as good as they say?" I ask.

"Better" is Grace's firm response.

He goes on: "It was such a special experience and playing there, it was just surreal.

"It's something I've always wanted to be able to do and I really enjoyed the whole experience - I took my family along, who have supported me all the way, and I made sure we cherished it.

"Me, I'm essentially a snooker fan who gets to play to a reasonable standard and to be able to go to the Crucible and play a match and live the dream, it was incredible.

"I took my Dad backstage and we had a photo taken together on the Crucible floor. To this day, it's the favourite photo I have.

"I played Kyren Wilson and lost 10-6 but I made a century to get back to 7-6 and thought I had a sniff. Unfortunately, he played really well from that point and pulled away again. I didn't start well enough and could never get to him."

David Grace
David Grace

Like all the qualifiers heading to Sheffield this week, Grace will need to win three matches in order to make the World Championship proper and first standing in his way is Rory McLeod, a veteran of the sport but under real pressure himself following a lean run of form.

"I'm nervous and excited and of course I'd love to play at the Crucible again but I'm not looking too far ahead.

"The way I see it, I have a little bit of a free run this year with my Tour card secured and I'm just going to enjoy it.

"I know Rory is under a little bit of pressure but he's been a fantastic player and is still capable of producing top-class snooker. People sometimes have him down as a grinder but when he's on, he's not, he's a terrific player."

Grace seems determined to stay in the moment, take one match at a time, but he is playing well again and surely there must be a temptation to look ahead to the next season with renewed optimism.

"Yeah, I'm happy with my game and enjoying my snooker but I've got a big match on Thursday and that's what I'm focused on. Trying to win that match and getting one step closer to reaching the Crucible."

And there it is again, the Crucible Theatre. For snooker players, it's almost an addiction.

Just ask Jimmy White, who is involved in the qualifiers yet again. It leaves you wanting more.

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